Reviewby Christopher Farris,
BanG Dream! 3rd Season Episodes 1-13 Streaming
The Girls Band Generation heads toward its next stage: The Budokan! Having missed out on recruiting Tae, CHU2 and Raise a Suilen are searching for a new guitarist, and Poppin' Party's biggest fan Rokka just might be the hidden talent they need. But Rokka has her own insecurities to conquer before she can step up to the big leagues of a band, and what she works through may just awaken a host of issues for the rest of RAS, threatening to tear the group apart before they reach their ultimate goal. At the same time, Roselia finds themselves drawn into the competitive ambitions of the new group, with their own set of consequences to reckon with. And through it all, Kasumi and Poppin' Party seek to prove that they're as capable of going the same showy distance as those other big-name bands. It's all going to come down to which group can prove themselves most worthy of winning the Girls Band Challenge known as the BanG Dream.
The BanG Dream! franchise has had its ups and downs, with the anime elements seemingly being the rockiest. Last year's second season wasn't all bad, especially compared to the tepid Season 1, but it still came off as an overstuffed obvious mobile-game advert still seemingly struggling with its own style in a shift to 3DCG animation. It was also planned from the start to continue into a third season, with several characters and plotlines waiting to continue into this next chunk of episodes. The question of how BanG Dream! would work in its third cour seemed a loaded one, which makes it an extremely pleasant surprise that this season isn't just easily the best BanG Dream! anime, but a generally solid show in its own right.
The major deciding factor of BanG Dream! Season 3's success is focus. Instead of a scattered parade of episodes focusing on the numerous bands and characters that now make up the franchise's expanded universe, this season pares its ambitions down to paying mind to just three of those groups: Poster-girls Poppin' Party, the ever-popular Roselia, and still-fresh newcomers RAISE A SUILEN. The story presented this go-around creates a broad, ongoing competition between bands to make sure all three focal groups factor into the same plot, and present clear stakes and goals for them to work within. That's basic storytelling stuff, to be sure, but it means this third outing for the series successfully feels much tighter as a narrative trying to have weight. The serious competition angle, and all the challenges between characters and ups and downs that come with it, lend it an almost sports-anime sensibility that was unthinkable in the previous seasons.
That's good news if you find yourself taken with the center-stage bands, particularly RAISE A SUILEN. These girls previously made their debut in the second season, but with the exception of Tae's friend Rei, were presented more as conceptual antagonists, mere backing-tracks to what drama unfolded for the main characters in that run. But though they still play an oppositional role for part of this season, RAISE A SUILEN are front-and-center for much of Season 3, with several episodes focusing on the group as they formally recruit fellow Season 2 alumnus Rokka and come together as a unit. The show seems keenly interested in putting over this group that don't have several years of character development rooted in mobile-game appearances the way the other cast members do. And because they've got more immediately-apparent room for growth, their storyline is the most compelling to watch.
RAS gets a sense of personal stakes in their evolution as a group and the trials therein that BanG Dream! was mostly unsuccessful attempting for Poppin' Party in the prior seasons. The professional domination of the music scene that RAS initially is characterized as having runs secondary to the members finding their place in the band and becoming genuine friends with each other for more personal reasons. It almost forms a mirror image of that formative plotline for Poppin' Party, who began as a band for fun and struggled for industry success seemingly out of self-aggrandizing obligation. This Season 3 story brings that original thesis of BanG Dream! better to fore: That playing in a band with your friends for fun is the ultimate goal of performing, apart from putting on any massive shows or winning large-scale competitions.
Poppin' Party and Roselia's presence in the plot seems primarily to provide angles for the RAS developments to bounce off of, but they still get their own focal parts. Roselia's role also seems to follow a sports-anime path, that of a previously-unbeatable team suffering a humbling defeat, only to take the lessons from that in stride and grow. It's nice to see the band show their own signs of development within the anime version of BanG Dream!, as they're noticeably more their own characters than the mere guest stars they began as back in the first season of the show. They've grown into being a mid-point between the attitudes espoused by RAISE A SUILEN and Poppin' Party in this season of the show. Speaking of, the antics of Kasumi and the other PopiPa girls are as light as ever, even moreso with the other two focal bands doing all the heavy emotional lifting. PopiPa does get their own plotline with their own ups, downs, and surprises within the competition driving this season's narrative, but it's practically a lighthearted comic-relief side plot to the big RAS/Roselia beef. At its most frivolous, it makes you question why Poppin' Party is even still being focused on apart from contractual obligation as the face of the franchise. To their credit, there is some narrative satisfaction to seeing this group that was initially characterized as playing smaller shows at an above-average level reach the heights they do by the end of this season, but that mostly speaks to how low the ambitions of PopiPa's starring roles were initially.
The choice of focus, while a boon to the overall quality of BanG Dream! S3, ironically forms what could be its primary weakness for many viewers. By almost entirely paying mind to those three big bands, especially relative newcomers like RAS, the other three groups, and thus about half the characters, fall entirely by the wayside. This means that fans tuning in hoping for some new stories akin to S2's delightful detour with Hello Happy World will be left disappointed: There are some scattered drop-in appearances by the other characters, and the eighth episode especially exists just to make sure everyone at least gets a glimpse of their Best Girl, but for the most part this series is a strongly serial affair strictly-focused on the particularly pared-down cast. It doesn't technically make the show worse, far from it, but there is a certain multimedia irony to the fact that BanG Dream! works better as a TV show when it's working worse as an ad for character goods and mobile-game gacha pulls. And sandwiched between the similarly small cast of the first season and this one, the suddenly-bloated collection of characters in Season 2 comes off as an even odder artifact than it did at the time.
Apart from the stronger plotting, the other advantage BanG Dream!'s third season has going for it is on the visual front. Sanzigen seems to have become much more comfortable with the 3DCG used to animate all these girls' bands, and it shows in the presentation. There's more plentiful spark in the characters' animation and how they interact with each other, applying things like smears to the motion of the models to enhance the feel of the anime as it occupies this CGI space. As well, after cutting their teeth on several music videos for the franchise as well as a whole concert movie between seasons, the studio's flair for direction of the musical portions of the show has come to life significantly more than in the sophomore effort. There's more noticable characterization in how performances go, particularly pivotal scenes like Rokka's audition. The drummers in the bands especially seem to have a lot of mind paid to the raw energy of their playing. It's still not on the level of the productions of, say, Studio Orange, and there are some places with noticeable framerate drops, but overall it makes a strong case for the workmanship of CGI in more anime projects moving forward. As a side-note regarding those musical scenes, Sentai Filmworks' subtitles continue to lack subs for all new songs debuting in this season. As with the last season, it's an ongoing frustration, particularly with how integral some of those song lyrics are to the growth of the characters and themes in this story.
The final episode of this season amounts to little more than a victory lap in terms of its overarching narrative, but it does also make clear that this is the Grand Finale for this BanG Dream! anime storyline. My own misgivings with the first season aside, it's still kind of heartwarming to see callbacks to that at the end here, and they also just remember to acknowledge the other bands from the series one last time. And with it wrapping up here, it's nice that the show can go out on this kind of high note, with a genuinely good season that nearly doesn't need to be qualified. That's ‘nearly’ due to its inherent nature as a threequel, it being hard to recommend the sketchy first season and just-okay second simply to have context for a pretty-solid entry like this. But it at least means it was worth sticking around for, a strong, well-presented story as a reward for those dedicated fans or anyone else who kept up with the anime until now.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B-
Music : B+
+ Strong, focused narrative all the way through. Raise a Suilen are developed well. Much-improved 3DCG animation and musical sequences.
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